Brand Spotlights: Neon Bandits, Topo Athletic & Tracksmith

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Photo: Me decked out in Heartbreak Hill Running Co. gear including Neon Bandits socks.

As you may have guessed, this post is about the three brands listed in the title of the post. What might not be obvious is what they have in common. One makes socks, one makes shoes and one makes clothing…how are they all related? They’re all based in Massachusetts and actively support adaptive athletes in the area. Anyone who has talked to me about running has heard about my work with Team With A Vision as a sighted guide. Supporting athletes of all abilities is something all of these companies believe in, which is why I’m profiling them here.

Neon Bandits

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Photos: Neon Bandits socks in action

Neon Bandits is a sock company founded by a brother/sister team here in Massachusetts. They made custom socks for Team With A Vision’s Boston Marathon team last year and made even brighter ones this year. I talked with Samantha Cohen, the co-founder of the company…

1) Who are the creators of Neon Bandits?
My brother Dan and I co-founded Neon Bandits in 2015 after noticing a void in the marketplace for well designed all-in-one socks. 
2) Why running socks?
Running socks were a natural evolution for Neon Bandits once we had successful launched our all-in-one sock. We partnered with the incredible team over at Heartbreak Hill Running to support us in the development of a performance running sock that would fit the need of the running community while still making a design splash.
3) Where did the name Neon Bandits come from?
Neon Bandits was a name that Dan had been toying around with for a couple of different business concepts. Ultimately when Dan and I came together to make socks, the name Neon Bandits really struck a cord with the product we were looking to develop. Our product and the brand we were creating was about being bold (Neon) while being unafraid to be individual (a Bandit). 
4) What makes your product stand out in the world of running apparel?
We genuinely listen to customer and partner feedback. Our socks were developed with the end user in mind and we’ve been able to optimize and grow within the running community because we’re able to offer such a high quality custom product. All of our Neon Bandits socks feature knit in design which means the design is knit into the construction of the sock. This creates a product that is super durable even during repeated washing and wearing (and marathon training!).
5) How did you first get introduced to Team With A Vision?
Dan ran the marathon a couple of years back and was introduced to Team with a Vision during a training run. There is nothing quite like the camaraderie on Comm Ave during those long runs! 
6) What other charities have you partnered with?
Over the past couple of years, we’ve worked with a number of charities and marathon teams on custom socks– Boston Children’s Hospital Miles for Miracles, New England Baptist Hospital and Team with a Vision to name a few of our local faves! 
7) Are custom design socks something you guys do on request?
Yes! Over the past two+ years, Neon Bandits has really grown out the custom arm of our offering and we’re able to offer high quality custom socks with relatively low minimum order quantities. It’s been outstanding to work with so many growing brands and organizations to expand their product offering to include socks. 
8) What are your favorite pair you designed and what design were you surprised by their popularity? This is a tough one because we’re designing a handful of new socks every week! I think my favorite Neon Bandits branded sock is our ‘Grip it Good‘ studio sock (who doesn’t love an animal print!) while my favorite custom sock may be our Marathon Map sock for Heartbreak Hill Running. This sock is super unique and really pays homage to our awesome city and the incredible Boston Marathon. In terms of the sock that is the most “popular”?! We’ve been blown away by the response our custom donut socks have received at The Holy Donut
You can purchase Neon Bandits at Heartbreak Hill Running Company or through their website.

Topo Athletic

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Photos: The Topo Athletic Fli-Lyte 2’s I’ll wear in the 2019 Boston Marathon
I became aware of Topo Athletic because Kyle Robidoux (my friend who I sighted guide for) is one of their brand ambassadors. He’s run all his ultra marathons in them so I know they can take a beating. I had some questions for Tony Post, the founder of Topo about the company and products…

1) How was Topo started and how did it end up being based in the Boston area?

After a long career in the footwear industry, and as a lifelong runner and athlete, I decided to start Topo Athletic with a vision to make the best natural running footwear in the world.

How did we end up in Boston? Well, first of all, Boston is considered one of the epicenters of shoe innovation and talent, and we are so fortunate to have such a strong team here at HQ! The city itself is also deeply rooted in the marathon/running culture, which is what led me here in the first place. After racing track & field and graduating from Tulsa University, I moved here to train harder with a few top runners on Boston’s north shore. That’s where my career in the shoe industry started. I’ve worked for Rockport and Vibram and now founded my own company here, headquartered in Framingham near the Mile 7 mark on the Boston Marathon course!

2) What makes your product stand out in the running shoe market?

Our fit and value. We don’t believe a shoe can fix the way you run, but we do believe that a good running shoe should deliver the comfort and fit you need to move naturally and remain active for a lifetime. That is why we liberate the foot by giving enough room for the toes to spread and splay, but fitted in the waist and heel to keep your foot secure on a neutral platform and then use lightweight materials so you don’t feel bogged down. We also strive to be the best at providing quality shoes at an affordable price point. This in itself requires exceptional design, planning and materials on our end to accomplish – it’s no small feat!

3) What does Move Better, Naturally mean and how do you describe it?

We believe in making exceptional shoes that help bring out your natural stride – in running and in life. Our simple, no-gimmick designs are created for people who like to move and want to continue moving injury free far into the future. 

4) Kyle has been a brand ambassador since I met him. How did you guys initially become aware of each other?

Kyle’s wife played on the same rugby team as our vice president of finance & operations and our former marketing director. They go way back to before Topo was created.

5) In my experience, races that are inclusive and support adaptive athletes are a more enriching experience for everyone involved. How excited are you to see Kyle become the first ever VI runner to compete in the Western States Endurance Challenge in your shoes?

We agree! We consider ourselves an “athlete-inclusive” company: whatever activity you are doing at any stage of your athletic journey, we want to be there with you. Kyle’s pursuits are inspiring to say the least; it has been a true honor to witness his athletic journey and know our shoes were able to play a supporting role in that. Not only is Kyle an exceptional human being, but he tackles challenges like the upcoming Western States Endurance Challenge with grace and in a way that invites others to dream what else is possible for themselves.

You can purchase Topo Athletic shoes at Marathon Sports or on their website.

Tracksmith

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Photos: Waite Windbreaker & Relay kit (Cape Cod edition)

I am obsessed with cute running gear, add a retro feel and I’m all in. Even better when the gear performs amazingly too. I wore the Waite Windbreaker in last year’s monsoon of a Boston marathon and it was perfect. I spoke to Lee Glandorf who manages their PR…

1) What was the inspiration behind starting the brand?

After graduating from Yale University where he was a varsity track and cross country athlete, our founder and CEO Matt Taylor spent most of his career in the running industry working with world-class runners at top brands, like PUMA. Though deeply immersed in the business of running, Matt was frustrated with the slow pace of the industry, its homogeneous products and the “everyone gets a medal” mentality that diminished the reverence for personal achievement in favor of athleisure. So he set out to create Tracksmith: premium performance apparel, inspiring publications and distinct running experiences that celebrate the grace, style and tradition of competitive running.

2) What made you choose the Boston area?

Boston is our home. We were founded in Wellesley, in part because that’s where our founder was based, but also because of the rich running legacy in the area. Our first offices were on the halfway point of the Marathon course and when we moved to the city, we settled just around the corner from the Marathon finish line. We love the city’s rich tradition of collegiate and amateur running and are constantly inspired by the athletes we have the opportunity to interact with here. The running community in Boston is unlike any other.

3) What makes your apparel stand out in a huge market?

As a whole, the product offering in the running category is pretty homogeneous; remove the logos and everything looks and feels the same. Every brand is basically producing the same thing, with the same materials, in the same colors. We felt like there needed to be a brand that truly celebrated all of the unique elements of running, including the history and amateur culture, which also happens to be deeply rooted in New England. Our direct to consumer model allows us to create products and utilize materials that other brands – who are constrained by wholesale margins – cannot. This gives us the ability to create highly-considered product designed for a very specific running purpose.

4) Where are your technical fabrics (I swear by the Waite Windbreaker, I wore it in the marathon last year) created?

We’re obsessed with selecting materials and including details that make the biggest difference for runners – whether that’s in terms of comfort (i.e. making sure that there are no seams that will chafe on a long run) or utility (i.e. placing a phone pocket in the optimal location to reduce movement.) From our Swiss-made Eliot Stretch fabric, to our silky smooth Italian-made Bravio Blend or our Australian merino, we scour the globe for materials that perform for the garment’s specific function – whether that’s a training short, a racing tank or a base layer.

5) When did you make a conscious decision to give back to the Boston running community by offering free public workouts?

We’ve hosted free runs since our earliest days, starting with our traditional “Half on the Half” runs, where we’d go from our office in Wellesley to the finish line halfway through every month. When we opened the Trackhouse, we wanted it to be more than just a retail store, we really wanted to create a community hub for the Boston community, inspired by places like the Eliot Lounge, where runners of all levels – from pros to novices – would gather and celebrate the sport they loved. We’re so inspired by the athletes we encounter at the Trackhouse, and we get a lot of ideas and feedback that comes from having so many runners of all backgrounds pass through our doors.

6) What’s the biggest misconception about the brand?

We talk a lot about personal achievement and celebrate certain benchmarks like BQ’s or OTQs, which could suggest an emphasis on a certain kind or level of runner. Our goal in doing so is not to prioritize being “fast” but to highlight the meaning and value that come from committing to training and racing. Whether your goal is to break 3 hours or 5 hours in the Marathon, it’s born from the same love, the same amateur spirit, and that’s what we want to celebrate.

7) What is your most popular item?

Our Session Shorts have been perennial best-sellers. They’re a great example of how a material difference can really transform a training short.

I also reached out to Lou Serafini, the Community Outreach and Retail Manager at the Tracksmith Trackhouse on Newbury Street for more info about what’s happening there…

1) When and how did you get involved with Tracksmith?

I started at Tracksmith 2 years ago but first got introduced to the brand at their Boston Marathon pop-up in 2016. I’ve always tried to take an interest in brands/groups that are driving the running industry. Especially in Boston. I got to know the co-founder, Matt and a few other people on the team over the years and had always tried to generate positive interactions. When they opened The Trackhouse, my name came up as a potential retail/community manager. They were looking for someone who could manage the shop and also grow a vibrant running community in Boston. I got the job and we’ve been working to provide a top notch experience at the Trackhouse for runners ever since.

2) How did Tracksmith start hosting Achilles Boston’s Saturday runs? What has the experience of supporting adaptive athletes been like for the Trackhouse staff?
I’m so grateful to be hosting the the Achilles group. I had gotten to know some of the members through run clubs but when RunBase closed they reached out to me about hosting runs here. It was such a no brainer decision – they’re super respectful of the space and even volunteer at some of our events. They also got us a bagel cutter which we desperately needed! 
I think it’s so important to unite ALL runners in the running community – not just a few subsets. I say it all the time but the best thing about this sport is that it’s all relative. We all have different goals that we work to achieve. You put in the work and search for joy in the sport whether you’re a 2 hour or 6 hour marathoner. And we as runners bond over that hard work and passion.
3) When are Tracksmith’s free public workouts?
Our run clubs meet every Tuesday/Thursday evening at 6:30pm and every Sunday at 9:00am. The workouts are designed to mimic a proper week of training. You get a speed session, a tempo session and a long run. Then you run easy or take days off in between for recovery. The workouts attract runner’s of all different abilities and at the long runs we even provide paces for groups starting at 6:30 all the way up to 12 minutes per mile.
4) How has coaching changed you as a runner?
Well it’s definitely just as fulfilling watching someone you coach achieve their goals than it is achieving your own. I’d say coaching has really changed my perspective on the sport. It constantly forces you to look at things through a different lens. Every runner is different and has different needs and goals and reactions to training. Coaching challenges you to always be on your toes and have the ability to react and change things when needed.
I’ve also developed so many great friendships through coaching and am certainly very grateful for those.
5) Tell me about the Hare AC… how much does a yearly membership cost & what do you get?

One of the things I’ve been most impressed with since starting here has been the company’s commitment to community building. Hare A.C. is our effort to continue uniting runners not just locally but globally. It’s $128/year to join and open to anyone – regardless if you’re on another club. Members receive a uniform, unique number hand-stamped onto a race bib, early access to Tracksmith product and access to our Hare AC concierge. I’m the one that answers training questions for Hare A.C. members. Another cool thing is that if you run a PR as a Hare A.C. member you get a “PR Bonus” and receive $100 in Tracksmith credit. So the membership quickly pays for itself.

The program is not even a 1/2 year old and we’re eager to continue growing it and adding more benefits for our members!

6) What are your three favorite pieces of Tracksmith gear?
Brighton Base Layer – short or long sleeve. The ultimate base layer and a “must have” if you train in a colder climate (i.e. New England).
Turnover Tights – Super comfy, stretchy and stylish running tights. If you come into the shop you’ll often see me working the floor in these. My favorite thing about these tights is that they’re not restrictive at all so they keep you nice and warm without sacrificing range of motion.

Charles Sunglasses – I’m a big accessories guy so I love these shades. We partnered with Article One to create a sleek and stylish pair of running shades that don’t look like running shades. You can take them out on the town and nobody would ever know they were designed for running. They’re a bit pricey but very worth it in my opinion. They don’t fog or move at all. The stems are also bendable so they mold seamlessly to your face.

 

You can purchase Tracksmith’s gear at the trackhouse at 285 Newbury Street or on their website.

I personally use gear from all three brands and can whole heartedly recommend their products to anyone. The fact that they support many athletes who I call friends is an added bonus. So check out these Massachusetts based apparel companies today! Thanks to all three brands for taking part in my post, I really appreciate it. Happy Running!

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